Sweeping, amusing, at last quite moving mock epic about a Russian spacecraft that shoots for the moon 60 hours before Apollo II lifts off from Houston--and then slowly runs out of luck when entering lunar orbit. Batchelor's staggeringly authentic re-creation of what purports to be the Russian space program matches his well-received earlier successes with historical fiction (1983's The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica and 1985's Niagara Falls-Civil War epic American Falls); here, intaglio craftsmanship shows everywhere--though detail never hinders the pace. A raw innocent, cosmonaut Peter Nevsky, 22, arrives at Starry Town, the USSR's skimpy space center, and finds himself entangled in family politics that bring on a national disaster. A major plot turn should remain veiled here, but let it be said that Peter's surprising tie with the half-insane, evil Mme. Eudaemonia Romodanovsky (whose inapt first name means Good Demon and who is being romantically pursued by the equally evil General Iagoda of State Security) brings plenty of Dostoevskian clout to the page. Iagoda at Eudaemonia's behest has Peter and his beloved Katya kidnapped, beaten, and imprisoned, and Katya dies. Meanwhile, Peter's other large tie is with his three drunken ``uncles,'' the troika of former air aces now at the top of the cosmonaut ladder and earmarked for the moon shot. Peter's father was the finest Russian air ace of WW II and the ``uncles'' are his godfathers. Batchelor spells out marvelously the many competing directorates in Russian politics circa 1963 and shows how rival agencies in a madhouse of surreal allegiances could launch secret high-weaponry wars among themselves without upsetting the nation. The Swiftian final deathtrip to the moon by Peter's three worn-out, broken-down uncles is unforgettable. Superbly bolted-together fantasy you could bang with a wrench.